Entering the first game between the Steelers and Bengals during early November, Cincinnati sported the league's tenth-best passing defense by allowing 216.8 yards per game. Following that game, which witnessed the end to Leon Hall's season, and the subsequent meetings against the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, the Bengals pass defense ranking dropped one spot, improving their yards passing allowed per game by 1.8 yards to 215.0. Would you have guessed that?
After slurping my morning cappuccino (that's one-fourth pure coffee), thoughts were entertained within this great cerebral mind that the Cincinnati Bengals pass defense would completely collapse without Leon Hall. Part of me believed that. You signed your cornerback to a five-year, $47.4 million extension and lose him for the season, you expect the pass defense to degrade. Additionally Nate Clements went into a funk against Cleveland, appearing old and slow against the quicker Greg Little. Torrey Smith made an argument for wide receiver rookie of the year two weeks ago.
So how in the world is this pass defense improving, or at the very least remaining stationary?
Is it the pass rush?
Since injuring his hamstring against the Tennessee Titans in week nine, Carlos Dunlap has been both ineffective (Baltimore) and unavailable against the Steelers (week 10) and the Browns (week 12). Michael Johnson is struggling (perhaps the result of Dunlap's absence), posting only one quarterback pressure and one quarterback hit in the past three games; the same numbers that Jonathan Fanene has posted through 72 defensive snaps in the past three games.
Though there has been successes from the pass rush amongst the highly touted Bengals defensive front. Robert Geathers, the defensive end Bengals fans left for dead, has three pressures, a hit and 2.5 quarterback sacks in his past three games. During the same stretch of games, Geno Atkins has been arguably Cincinnati's top-defensive player with six quarterback hits, three pressures and three sacks. Though we expect that out of Atkins; it's the return of Geathers that remains largely unnoticed, yet entirely welcome.
The secondary is in the same shape -- some stories of success, others of depression.
Adam Jones put together his best game of the season against the Cleveland Browns, only allowing three of eight receptions for 24 yards receiving and an opposing quarterback rating of 45.8. But then Nate Clements had probably his worst game against the Browns (opposing QB rating of 135.4) since Denver in week two (156.3), where he allowed two touchdowns. In the past three games safety Reggie Nelson has only allowed one reception against players he covered (though that one reception was a touchdown). But then Chris Crocker has allowed three touchdowns in the past four games, dating back to the Tennessee Titans.
Maybe the end result is that nothing has significantly changed, at least from a secondary perspective. The man replacing Leon Hall, Adam Jones, stepped up against the Browns last weekend and most feel comfortable enough that Jones is capable replacement, if not more talented than the hard working Hall.
Regardless the Bengals are going to need to bring their top pass defense against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who put together a tremendously talented wide receiver group on the field this Sunday.